Joanne Hayes Harlan 

May 26, 1925 – Sept. 29, 2020 

Joanne Hayes Harlan, 95, passed away peacefully at her home in Barnum, west of Kaycee, on Sept. 29, 2020. 

Joanne was born on May 26, 1925, in Peoria, Illinois, to Harry Howarth Hayes and Margaret Lackland Hayes. The family moved to suburban La Grange, Illinois, where Jo attended school. Jo was in high school when Pearl Harbor was attacked.

Inspired by Rosie the Riveter, she threw herself into the war effort by volunteering in a factory making war supplies – where she was assigned the job of screwing lids on salt and pepper shakers. She said those little suckers came flying down the belt so fast she had shakers and lids all over the place. 

She attended Iowa State University where, after the war, she met James S. Harlan. Jim grew up in Arlington, Virginia, but had visited family in Barnum many times. After graduating from Iowa State, Jo and Jim were married on Dec. 30, 1947, in La Grange, Illinois, and set out for a new life in Wyoming.

Jo was a city girl accustomed to the basic amenities of the day – electricity, forced air furnaces, hot and cold running water, indoor bathrooms, washing machines, refrigerators, freezers, telephones and paved roads. She was somewhat surprised to find out that Barnum had none of those amenities. 

But Jo loved Jim and Jim loved Wyoming … so she threw herself enthusiastically into the adventure of ranch life in Barnum. They hauled water from the river for drinking, bathing, and washing; chopped blocks of ice from the river and hauled them to the ice house to keep meat cool in the summer; used wood stoves to heat the house and cook; and had a “monkey wards” catalog in the “reading room” (outhouse). 

Thus began Jo’s tempestuous relationship with the wood cook stove – which she kept in constant transition from ice cold to red hot. She could bake an angel food cake in six minutes. Jo later said neighbors and friends started dropping by at mealtimes just to see what she had burned. 

Jo and Jim provided room and board for a USGS survey crew and Jo single-handedly proved that none of the 97 ways to cook venison tricked the men into thinking it was beef. 

When Jo taught in the one-room Lower Barnum School she arrived early to fire up the wood stove. By the time her students rode in on their horses, she had the school so hot they had to do their lessons outside.

Of those early days, she said “It was like moving to China. But it’s wonderful. It was wonderful. We were working together to try to make a go.” And so it was. Jo and Jim and their four children working together to make a go of the ranch. Jo’s enthusiasm and great humor held the family together through the many adversities of ranch life. Over the years, Jo and Jim invited many young people to live with them and work on the ranch – and they became part of the family.

Jo embraced all things Wyoming. She loved the people and their humor. Jo helped establish and maintain the Barnum School. She was a dedicated member of the Barnum Women’s Club and was instrumental in the preservation of the Barnum Hall.

She made a million phone calls to organize community events and attended every one. Jo’s house was the go-to place for thousands of 4-H meetings, picnics, reunions, and community events. Jo and Jim never missed the Johnson County Fair. Jo’s humor inspired the Barnum 4-H parade floats and she relished the annual skirmish with the Buffalo Fire Department and using red Kool-Aid to circumvent the City Council’s no-water parade rule (“hosed you again”).

Years ago, Jo and Jim were honored as parade marshals. When she was later honored as parade marshal, Jo was astonished and flattered. Jo helped establish the Hoofprints of the Past Museum, was a member of Johnson County Cattlewomen, never missed a Barnum Dance or Wool Growers banquet and served her community in countless other ways. 

Jo was a people person and she never met a stranger. She was keenly interested in people, culture, and world events and was an avid reader. She struck up conversations with people everywhere she went. Taken by her sincerity and humor, many of her new acquaintances became lifetime friends. 

Jo was a talented writer and over the years wrote hundreds of humorous plays, musicals, poems, short stories and essays. Jo’s humor was kind and self-deprecating. She had a rather loose association with the facts, but her stories were always entertaining. She found a million ways to poke fun at herself — to the great amusement of others. Her recent Christmas poem started with “I’m the Queen of my Domain / Upon my throne I sit / Some say I’m full of wisdom / Some say I’m full of …. ‘it’!”

Jo was never too busy or too poor to welcome the people who dropped by. She could be counted on to serve up an endless supply of homemade cookies, strong coffee and good humor. Jo was a wonderful cook and had the knack of stretching a meal to serve the many people who came to visit. When a carload of people pulled into the yard, she would say “FHB” (code for “family hold back”) so she always had enough food to go around. 

Her friend Norris Graves told her there was a sign on her mailbox that said, “free lunch inside.” When Norris came in from his sheep camp for lunch every day at 3 p.m., she served him eggs so many times that he began to announce his arrival by flapping his arms and cackling like a chicken.

Jo was a “cheerful giver.” She gave the best of herself and her possessions to her family, friends and community. Always the champion of the underdog, indifferent to social status, kind, tenderhearted, loyal, non-judgmental and forgiving — she never said a mean word or held a grudge.

She was, however, prone to telling people to “buck up” if they complained too much about their lot in life. After facing the adversities in ranch life and losing her husband of 65 years, she said, “You learn to say goodbye to the bad things and carry on.” 

Jo is survived by her children, Charles (Heather) Harlan, Margo (Paul) Sabec, Robert (Lynn) Harlan and Thomas (Joni) Harlan, all of Kaycee; her grandchildren, Scott Sabec, Mark Sabec and McKenzie Kate Harlan of Kaycee, and James (Eva) Harlan of Banner; and her great-grandson Lucas Harlan of Banner. Jo was preceded in death by her husband Jim, her sister Edith (Hayes) Brown and brothers, Charles Hayes and Robert Hayes.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be sent to the Harlan Scholarship Fund, 873 Barnum Road, Kaycee, WY 82639. Thanks to the generosity of Jim’s friends and neighbors, the Harlan Scholarship Fund has awarded $35,900 in scholarships to 38 Kaycee graduates from 31 local families. The scholarships are awarded to students enrolled in post-high school training programs and to defray the costs of college after the freshman year. Many students received the scholarship for several years.  

A celebration of Jo’s life will be held at 2 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020, in the meadow near the Harlan Cemetery at 999 Barnum Road, Kaycee. Balloons and signs will mark the way. There will be a picnic in the meadow following the service. Wear your walking shoes and bring your lawn chairs. Rides will be provided. If the weather is inclement, the service will be at the Harold Jarrard Park (signs will be posted at the Kaycee exits and intersection).